A woman who was raped by an Uber driver is now suing the company and three of its top executives, including CEO Travis Kalanick (who is currently on a leave of absence), for mishandling her medical records.
Also named on the suit are Eric Alexander and Emil Michael. Alexander, the company’s former top executive in Asia, was fired last week for his involvement in the incident. And Michael, former SVP of business and reportedly a very close confidante of Kalanick, also just left the company. Michael was rumored to have known about the medical report as well.
Kalanick announced Tuesday he will be taking a leave of absence for an undetermined length of time.
Incidentally, reallocating Travis Kalanick’s responsibilities was the first recommendation from a report by former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder.
The woman, known only as Jane Doe, was raped by an Uber driver in India in 2014. She sued the company and settled for an undisclosed amount in 2015.
This time Doe, who currently resides in Texas, is filing charges for intrusion into private affairs, public disclosure of private facts and defamation of her character.
“Rape denial is just another form of the toxic gender discrimination that is endemic at Uber and ingrained in its culture,” said Douglas Wigdor, an attorney for Doe, in a statement. “Hopefully, this lawsuit coupled with the changes recommended by the independent counsel will create real change and reform at Uber and elsewhere.”
Uber came under sharp scrutiny at the time of Doe’s rape because her attacker, Shiv Kumar Yadav, was discovered to have had numerous prior charges on his record. The incident brought to light the veracity of Uber’s background checks. The ride-hailing company was banned from operating in India for a short time.
Despite a public statement of support for the victim at the time of the rape, a very different story was allegedly going on behind closed doors at Uber. According to the lawsuit, executives at the company privately surmised that Doe fabricated the story with a rival ride-hailing service to hurt Uber.
The filing states that Kalanick, Michael and Alexander all “bought into the narrative of rape denialism which focuses on whether a victim had been drinking, what she was wearing, or whether she knew the alleged rapist, rather than on the very real physical, emotional and financial toll that rape takes on a victim.”
“Indeed, only by discrediting Jane Doe’s account of what happened, including her medical records about the rape, could Kalanick, Alexander and Michael have contrived such an irrational and fictitious story about a rival ride-sharing company being involved in her rape account,” the lawsuit states.
According to the suit, following the assault Alexander went to India, obtained the records and shared them with Kalanick and Michael. It is still unknown how Alexander obtained the records in the first place.
“Alexander, Kalanick and Michael discussed the records among themselves andwith other staff at Uber, speculating that Plaintiff had made up the brutal rape in collusion with arival of Uber in India in order to undermine Uber’s business,” the lawsuit reads.
“Nothing was further from the truth.”
Doe’s attacker was sentenced to life in prison for his crime.
A police officer who was in charge of investigating Doe’s attack, Madhur Verma, told The Guardian there was “no reason” for Alexander to have Doe’s records.
“Had [Uber] applied for permission” for the records, “police would never have given it,” Verma said.
Uber currently has many vacancies in its leadership ranks. What Kalanick’s role will be during his absence, which has no timeline, is unclear. His responsibilities will be left to his direct reports, according to a letter received by Uber staff, but Kalanick “will be available as needed for the most strategic decisions.” A source told Reuters that Kalanick is free to return to the company anytime.
Lack of diversity was always at the core of Uber’s problems.
Meanwhile, the company is searching for a COO and has several board seats to fill. One member, David Bonderman, resigned this week after making a sexist remark to a fellow board member. He called the remark “careless, inappropriate and inexcusable.”
But given Uber’s “boy’s club” culture, reflected in its current board of directors, Bonderman’s comment may not have seemed out of place to him.
Last year Huffington, former executive editor and co-founder of The Huffington Post, was the first woman to join Uber’s board since it was founded in 2009. For seven years, the company did not have a woman on its board.
Had Uber had more gender diversity in its top ranks, perhaps Doe’s case would have been handled appropriately — and perhaps numerous other missteps made by the company would have been avoided.
Travis Kalanick wrote a memo to employees that included the “do’s and don’ts” of having sex with colleagues at company gatherings.
Last week Recode obtained an email that Kalanick sent to staff members in 2013 about the “do’s and don’ts” of employee sex rules on a company trip to Miami to celebrate the company expanding to its 50th global city.
Kalanick told employees to “Have a great f**king time” and also cautioned:
“Do not have sex with another employee UNLESS a) you have asked that person for that privilege and they have responded with an emphatic ‘YES! I will have sex with you’ AND b) the two (or more) of you do not work in the same chain of command. Yes, that means that Travis will be celibate on this trip. #CEOLife #FML.”